How a painful childhood memory affected my parenting

In case anyone is worried, you will not have to call child services after reading this.

I’m thinking about one of my horrible childhood memories….we all have some. This particular memory happened during the early part of first grade. I went to Catholic school. My teacher was a nun.

This sounds like there has to be a punch line, right?

On this day, it was cold enough outside that I was wearing pants. We wore plaid uniforms, and the pants were the same pattern and color as our jumpers. Dark green was the base, that’s all I remember.

I had to pee.

It was after lunch, but not yet time to go home. The fidgety irritation in my bladder had given way to a painful throbbing. I would NOT raise my hand to ask to use the bathroom. I remember thinking about it, wanting to do it….but I was too shy. I just could not do it.

As the teacher talked at the front of the class, I sat in the last chair in my row. Scooting up, slouching, changing positions to try to ease the insistent urge to pee. It was all I could think about.

In my desperation for relief, I had what I felt was an epiphany at the time. In retrospect…not so much. I reasoned with myself. Hey, this bladder feels like it’s just going to BURST open. Why not just let a LITTLE pee out….just a smidge. Oh…I’ll bet that will feel so much better and it will be just such a TINY bit that no one would possibly know. Just a few drops is all, really.

Ok, it SOUNDED reasonable in my 6 year old mind.

So I did it. Just intending to allow the smallest trickle of pee onto my seat. I knew it was horribly bad, but so was the pain in my bladder. And so was my shyness about letting the class know that I actually had to pee. The shame!

And so the stream started, and continued, the warm wetness quickly gushing beyond any trickle I had planned to release. A horrible mix of shame and relief as my bladder refused to close until fully emptied. I, in horror, sat and quickly realized a few things about peeing your pants in public. Mainly that the public becomes very aware of it.

I remember hearing the wet dripping as the urine dropped to the ground from my seat, turning to watch the yellow river flow from the puddle under my chair, all the way to the radiator behind my desk. Thank God no one sat right behind me.

Then it was over.

I was left with very wet pants. A tell tale yellow puddle under my chair, snaking it’s way out from behind me.

I had to go through the rest of the afternoon like this. My face was a big blotch. My chest was heaving with anxiety. I was frozen. No way could I tell the teacher, yet she KNEW. She saw. She said nothing. My pants got colder, still wet and stuck to me.

I had to get up at one point to walk to our reading group, and sit in a chair organized with others in a half circle around the teacher. She called me up to the board. I remember this, hearing my name, praying she didn’t mean to call me. I gave her a questioning look, yep, she meant me. I remember thinking no one could probably see the huge wet spot since my pants were so dark. I hoped.

Finally, the end of the day. Before dismissal, we all got on our knees and swept up under our desks with our hands, picking up any bits and pieces that might have dropped that day.

I knelt there, looking into that yellow puddle, unmoving under my desk. No way was I going to put my hands in that. I caught what I thought was a sympathetic look from a girl across from me, staring at my puddle as well. I waited, then stood up with everyone else, and finally left for the day. Leaving my shameful evidence behind.

I walked home from school. I don’t remember anyone teasing me, that didn’t start until the next day. I remember taking off those pants in my room, and balling them up. Hiding them in my closet. I never said anything to my mom. I don’t know how she ever found those pants to wash, she must not have noticed the smell when she did.

I won’t talk much about the teasing afterwards. Of course that happened. My nickname for a while was “Pee Pants Kim”. I had to switch lunch tables, it wasn’t fun.

What sticks in my mind more than that, was what happened when I came to school the next day. My teacher, the nun, stopped me before I went into the classroom. She waited until we were alone. She asked me why I hadn’t asked her to use the bathroom. I didn’t know how to explain this. I didn’t really KNOW why, except I didn’t want to ask, I didn’t want people to know that I had to pee. So I told her “I wanted to be the only one in class that didn’t ask”. She said nothing else. I wanted to ask her why she didn’t help me yesterday. Why she made me stand up, and call attention to myself in front of the class as I was dying inside. Of course I said nothing. I walked into the classroom half expecting my puddle to be waiting for me. Thank God, it was gone.

Fast forward 20+ years.

My daughter is in kindergarten. She asks her teacher to use the bathroom, but is consistently told “No”. This teacher doesn’t want music class interrupted for silly things like bodily functions.


After a very polite discussion with the teacher, where I make it known that I will work with Rachel about using the potty during designated times….as long as the teacher knows that if Rachel does still feel the need to pee at another time, she WILL be allowed to go…. I sit and talk with my kids.

I’ve had this talk with them several times since, as there are many teachers who feel children should fight their body’s natural urges to pee when it happens outside of the designated time assigned for them to have that urge.

I tell them first, definitely go to the bathroom when you have the chance. Just to avoid that discomfort in class, or the embarrassment I felt as a child, even daring to ask about peeing.

Then I tell them if you need to use the bathroom, ask. If your teacher says no, tell them you really need to go and it can’t wait. If the answer is still no…. you say sorry, you can’t wait, and you GO. and let ME deal with your teacher.

I have a no tolerance policy about this. I never want any of my kids to feel the shame and embarrassment I did back then. I also don’t want them to think they have permission to flout authority because mom says so, but bottom line, if they need to go they are allowed to go!

This was really an issue more in grade school with my kids, I could not believe how many teachers upfront will announce there are no potty breaks in their class. I realize children do learn to use the hall pass for a quick break, and teachers have to enforce rules to keep the class in line. But I know how it feels to be afraid to ask and the consequences of that. I have always tried to make sure my children felt more confident in themselves than I did, and ABLE to speak for themselves as I did not.

I’m glad to say I never had to duke it out with any teachers to protect my kids right to eliminate. BUT…. I was totally prepared to do so.

As I’ve grown up, I think back to my 6 year old self. That little girl finally did learn to speak up for herself, and continues to make sure her children know they are worth listening to, and allowed to make their feelings known. I feel so bad for the little girl I was back then, but so glad it happened to me, and not one of my kids.


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